Haryana Plans to Develop a 10,000‑Acre Jungle Safari Park, Raising Environmental Concerns
Activists say the project is located in area designated as ‘forest’ where no construction is allowed and is thus “illegal.”
The Haryana state government on Thursday announced plans to develop a 10,000-acre Jungle Safari Park in the state, reported the Press Trust of India. The park, slated to come up in the Aravalli range in the Gurugram and Nuh districts of the state will become the largest wildlife safari outside of Africa on completion. The safari park will be a joint project between the Haryana state government and the Union Ministry of Forest, Environment, and Climate Change. But the move represents the problem at the heart of eco-tourism.
The government in its statement announced grand plans of including a herpetarium, an avian sanctuary, four zones for big cats, areas dedicated to exotic birds and animals, and several other attractions. However, while on the one hand, the government is promoting the move as a major step for biodiversity conservation, on the other, environmentalists have already expressed their concern about the move.
In a letter to the government, they pointed out that the land chosen for the project falls under forest land where construction activities are illegal. Further, the letter also states that the government tender for the project mentions invitations to companies to build hotels, restaurants, children’s parks, cable cars, open-air theatres, and other tourist establishments that could harm the biodiversity in the region.
In the last few decades, ecotourism or ecological tourism has caught on as a trendy alternative to conventional tourism. Destinations with rich biodiversity and ecosystems are packaged as tourist destinations to attract revenue from tourism. Benefits of ecotourism that are frequently highlighted include its supposed role in promoting wildlife conservation by generating revenue and spreading awareness. However, in recent years, ecotourism has been criticized to be just another form of conventional tourism, as opposed to a radically different alternative. Private corporations have hijacked the original purposes of ecotourism to develop it as an industry, and it has led to greater harm to the environment. For one, attracting international tourists for revenue is largely dependent on air travel, which is responsible for a big chunk of environmental pollution. But there are also other, deeper issues.
For instance, a recent World Animal Protection report observes that animal abuses occur in almost 75% of the world’s wildlife attraction sites. “…abuses include being taken from their mothers at a very young age, being beaten and harmed so they can be trained to give rides…” the report states. The development of wildlife and ecological tourism into a mass industry has led to hordes of tourists populating natural habitats of wildlife, invading their space and privacy for selfies, manhandling delicate species for a ‘natural experience’, engaging them in tricks and games and sports for entertainment — all representing an anthropocentric approach to engaging with nature.
But these activities have a direct fall-out on both animal and human health. For instance, a fifteen-month study in South Africa concluded in 2019 observed that Safari tourists were directly responsible for the deteriorating health of elephants in the country, making them violent — leading eventually to more human injuries and deaths caused by elephants trampling them.
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There are also other health issues that may arise from mass ecotourism. In an interview with The Washington Post, environmental anthropologist Michael Muehlenbein describes how close contact to humans can lead to life-threatening diseases among animals. “A cold to us is mild. A cold to an ape is life-threatening. Measles, chickenpox: life-threatening in these animals… a cold sore from humans can kill apes. Large portions of the population can be wiped out,” Muehlenbein pointed out. He added that there are other dangers too, including “the potential for introduction of invasive species … general degradation of the environment … problems with waste disposal.”
Ecotourism as a capitalist, industrial venture is also responsible for mass evictions of indigenous populations from their land which is then repurposed by nonlocal corporations to develop parks, hotels, restaurants, and other tourist facilities designed for wealthier people. Conventional ideas of nature conservation divorce the lives of indigenous peoples from that of the wildlife they cohabit with. This is in conflict with the idea of treating forests and ecosystems as environmental commons.
Displaced indigenous populations are then often left with little or no compensation and are forced to start their life afresh, separated from their roots and their culture. A Housing and Land Rights Network India report from 2018 notes that “in a majority of reported eviction cases, state authorities did not follow due process established by national and international standards … All cases of forced eviction resulted in multiple and often gross human rights violations.”
Of course, this does not mean that ecological tourism is entirely meaningless. Indeed, countries like Uganda have tried to take indigenous populations into confidence in their projects for conservation. Sensitivity towards wildlife and centering their comfort, while ensuring that tourism occurs from a reasonable distance, could be other ways in which ecotourism can be truly helpful for the environment.
Nevertheless, recent trends in ecotourism in India have rarely evoked confidence in terms of safeguarding indigenous rights and conserving protected areas. For instance, the government’s drive to push ecotourism projects in Lakshadweep “along the lines of Maldives” is projected to cause mass displacement of both human and animal species. The Haryana Safari Project, seen in this light, could cause significant environmental upheaval.
Amlan Sarkar is a staff writer at TheSwaddle. He writes about the intersection between pop culture and politics. You can reach him on Instagram @amlansarkr.